notes and tips from rome

rome: notes and tips

[A sidebar to these two posts about our June 2013 trip to Rome.]

Assorted Observations

  • We saw more adults eating gelato than children! It wasn’t uncommon to see businessmen sitting around a table at a gelateria, having serious post-lunch conversations. Rome, you’re awesome.
  • The piramide alimentare [food pyramid] on the wall at the Explora science museum for kids (which I enthusiastically recommend) had sneakers, a soccer ball and a bottle of water at the foundation level. How I adored this!
  • During the day, Romans don’t eat round pizzas, but pizza al taglio [pizza by the slice], which are long, rectangular “pies” are made with various toppings. You indicate how much you’d like cut off and they heat up just that for you. This came to be because it’s illegal to fire up wood-burning pizza ovens before 7 p.m. (although we definitely saw a few places that did so at 6:30, but never earlier.) Places with round pizza before then are said to be making “tourist pizzas,” baked in (gasp!) regular ovens. I know you would never participate in such a thing.
  • You go to grocery stores in foreign countries too, don’t you? I’m sort of obsessed with this. Anyway, aside from the expected wonders in the grocery stores, such as epic fresh mozzarella sections (bocconcini in multiple sizes, people!), the most frequently cited item in the tomato section were not whole tomatoes but jars of passata di pomodoro or silky smooth pureed, strained fresh tomatoes (which I suspect is the base of their red pizza sauces, but this for another post). Also of interest, I’d expected to see a variety of wine vinegars, but the two (albeit, small and understocked) stores I went to only carried balsamic and maybe one tiny, dusty bottle of white wine vinegar. I’d expected balsamic to be more popular only in the north (Modena and Reggio Emilia, where it hails from), but found it on many dishes (used, thankfully, with a very light hand). Most salads were only dressed with olive oil.
  • On the last day of school, which we had the delight of being there for, kids throw flour and water (and sometimes eggs) at each other. I probably don’t need to tell you what an chaotic/awesome battle this makes of the surrounding areas! Mmm, yummy pavement pasta.
  • The farmer’s markets (well, not all farmed goods, and not all local) are open daily except Sunday (thus, there are no hopscotched weekly schedules to memorize) and every single stand handed us a printed receipt without us even asking. NYC, can we get on this please? [Update: Okay, NYC, I'll stop nagging you because I hadn't realized that the true farmers markets of Rome, of which there are four, are indeed manned by farmers and open only two days a week.]

one of the many hideous alleys of rome

Little Travel Tips/Saviors:

  • Google Translate is a website as well as a free App, and it is from the gods. Seriously, just go download it; you need it, even if you’re not planning on giving your passport a workout this year.
  • This was the first time I’d left the country that I’d used my phone freely, and it’s because we were able to purchase a $30 data plan from AT&T (which, in 10 days of moderate use, we still didn’t diminish). I cannot tell you how liberating it was to just be able to use Google Maps when navigating places, you know, like you’d do at home! It even brought up bus/tram schedules (hilarious, as you won’t ever find one that follows it) so we never had to carry around Hello, I Am A Tourist billboards, I mean, paper maps. Modernism!
  • Cash is used for almost everything, so just make it easy on yourself and carry enough around to get you through the day. We were able to get money at a good exchange rate before we left from our bank directly (never use those kiosks; they’re such rip-offs) and more from the ATMs while we were there.
  • We are kind of obsessed with our new luggage (we bought two in a blueberry color). Our previous large suitcases hit the weight limit at the airport when they were only 2/3 full; these didn’t went totally filled. Plus, they collapse excellently for storage at home, unlike our standard luggage set. Huzzah!

why would you eat lunch if you could run, run, run?

Eating in Rome:

We had a massive list of restaurant and market recommendations that we pulled together from friends and friends-of-friends who have spent a lot of time in Rome, but we only got to a handful of places. This was in part because we repeated a few places we especially liked and also because this was not a so-called foodie trip for us; we weren’t there to eat at the very best, most gasped-about food haunts in Rome, we just wanted to wander around for a couple weeks and absorb new things. Many of our restaurant choices gravitated toward the simple ones (though there are many fancier restaurants I’d enjoy checking out if we came back without the kid) that allowed us to start dinner before 7:30 (bath time!) or just had great pizza, which consistently made the wee one happy. That said, like any major city, there are a lot of average meals to be had and I think a little bit of research — recent research; a recommendation from someone’s trip even 5 or 10 years ago could be a huge current disappointment, trust us — and making reservations (these are essential in many European cities, which can be terrifying if you don’t speak the language, but just let the lovely Google Translate walk you through it; you will rarely need to call earlier the day of your meal) can guarantee some excellent meals.

Like most cities, we usually had the best meals in the places out of the main squares and that didn’t boast menus in several languages (though we found that almost everyone spoke passable English, far more passable than our Italian!). Along these lines: If you feel that you know the names of most Italian dishes and major ingredients, I recommend using the Italian menus even when English ones are offered. I found the English ones to often have confusing translations (i.e. “potato rounds in bacon and broken tomatoes”) when the actual dish (“gnocchi all’amatriciana”) was something quite familiar and lovely.

Finally, something I loved learning about in Rome is an informal weekly meal calendar that dates back centuries called piatti canonici (canonical dishes). Each day has a dish as its traditional daily special, so to speak, and keeping these in mind when you order can really help you feel like you’re eating as the locals might do. Now, there are some days that everyone agrees on (i.e. Thursday: gnocchi!) and others that I found enough disparate opinion on that I’m listing more than one dish.

  • Monday: bollito misto (boiled beef, veal or hen) or riso e indivia in brodo (rice and endive in broth)
  • Tuesday: pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas), pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans), but sometimes fish, oxtail or polpette (meatballs) are mentioned.
  • Wednesday: Anything goes!
  • Thursday: gnocchi di patate (potato gnocchi)
  • Friday: pasta e ceci, pasta e broccoli, or a fish dish — spaghette con le vongole (spaghetti with clams), and some form of baccala
  • Saturday: trippa all romana (tripe with pecorino cheese)
  • Sunday: fettucini alla romana (with meat and tomato sauce), then abbacchio (roast lamb)

espresso granita, unsweetened cream

Where We Ate:

  • Alberto Pica, Via della Seggiola 12: The rice pudding gelato was ridiculous, as was the kid’s strawberry.
  • Antico Forno di Campo Di Fiore, Piazza Campo Dè Fiori, 22: We picked up pizza bianca sandwiches here more than once; their pizza al taglio is supposed to be among the best.
  • Baffetto, Via del Governo Vecchio, 114: Some will tell you that it’s a tourist haven (it might be) but this was our favorite wood oven Roman pizza.
  • Castroni: Via Cola Di Rienzo, 196: This is a specialty foods mecca in Rome, selling everything from Ro-Tel and peanut butter to homesick Americans to pretty much every food gift you’d want to bring back from Italy, at decent prices. I pretty much raided the place before we left. They also have excellent coffee.
  • Confetteria Moriondo e Gariglio, Via di Pie’ di Marmo 21-22. A very good, fancy chocolate shop; we picked up candied chestnuts and foil-wrapped gianduja.
  • Da Cesare al Casaletto, Via del Casaletto, 45: Great Roman food; we had spaghetti vongole and tonnarelli cacio e pepe, plus excellent antipasti
  • Da Remo, Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44: Excellent wood-fired pizza and the most beautiful insalata mista I have ever seen from a casual pizza joint.
  • Gelateria al Teatro, Via S. Simone, 70: Our favorite gelato, we went often and think you must try the almond, hazelnut, chocolate/red wine, tiramisu… yes, just everything.
  • Giolitti, Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40: This is one of those gelato places that shows up in all of the books, but many Romans feel it’s had better days. To wit, we enjoyed our gelato but can’t even remember what we ordered.
  • Gusto, Piazza Augusto Imperatore, 9: A stunning lunch buffet where you could try just about every dish Rome is famous for, in a classy setting. I had greens four ways; heaven! There’s also an emporium where you can buy gifts.
  • Il Fornaio, Via dei Baullari, 5: Lovely bakery with so many wonderful fresh cookies. We picked up some rustic sandwiches and nutella cookies, because really, how could we not?
  • La Cabana, Via del Mancino, 7: We went here for our Thursday gnocchi fix and had a really lovely meal.
  • La Sacrestia, Via del Seminario, 89: We had an excellent, excellent mixed antipasti platter, and very good pizza (and for Alex, a great calzone).
  • Pizzarium, Via della Meloria 43: A total trek, but the best pizza al taglio we had. Gorgeous dough, seasonal toppings
  • Ristorante Della Campana, Vicolo della Campana 18: One of our favorite Roman trattoria meals; lovely serve and all of our dishes (chicken, pasta, artichokes) were excellent.
  • Roscioli, Via dei Giubbonari, 21: Recommended to us by 100% of the people we requested leads from, there’s both a shop and a restaurant within a block of each other. Everything we had, esepcially the all’amitriciana, was excellent.
  • San Crispino, Piazza della Maddalena, 3; Via della Panetteria 42: Along with Giolitti, this is the other place every book in the world will tell you to go for gelato. It wasn’t our favorite, but Alex’s grapefruit sorbet, Jacob’s banana and my pistachio were excellent.
  • Tazza d’Oro, Via degli Orfani 84: Unbelievably good granita di caffee con panna, on the site shortly. St. Eustachio also came recommended for this, but we never got there.